For the last couple years, life has been good. Every time I’ve shown you to a friend or family member, they’ve compared you to what they’re familiar with – Windows XP or Vista, mostly – and by comparison you’ve looked brilliant. Yeah, your ugly brown color scheme was a bit off-putting at first, but once people saw how secure, simple, and reliable you were, the response was almost universally positive.
But recently, things have changed. Your last version – 9.10 – was an unmitigated disaster. At first I thought I was the only user having issues with it (random freezes and reboots), but guess what? Tons of people had a horrible experience with you. My comment box is overflowing with comment after comment after comment about how you made their life difficult with your 9.10 release, and thirty seconds on any major search engine will show loads more comments to this same effect.
Normally all this would be semi-acceptable since you still provide a great alternative to Vista.
….but wait. That’s not actually relevant. See, my friends and family aren’t comparing you to Vista any longer – they’re comparing you to Windows 7.
And frankly, Windows 7 is a great operating system.
Out of the box, Windows 7 is very pretty. It makes your brown ugliness look worse than ever. I realize that your strange obsession with brown is changing with your next release (thank God), but I have to wonder – is it changing enough?
Windows 7 still makes you look ridiculous. Sorry, but it’s true.
But you know what – let’s forget about appearances. After all, I can always spend five or six hours (per computer) meticulously changing you into something beautiful. It’s not like I don’t have anything better to do with my time. </sarcasm>
Let’s talk instead about something you’ve ALWAYS excelled at: security. One of my favorite things to tell new Ubuntu users is that dealing with an intrusive virus scanner is a thing of the past. Linux distros don’t require virus scanners, and if a person wants to use one “just in case”, ClamAV won’t bother ’em at all.
People are always amazed by this, especially after dealing with the likes of Norton or McAfee or AVG. Even the good free scanners (Avast, for example) can be surprisingly pesky.
But you know what, Ubuntu? This isn’t as true as it used to be. Yes, you remain pleasantly secure, but guess what – Windows 7 is quite a bit better in this regard. Microsoft even provides their own security solution – and it’s surprisingly good. It integrates very nicely with Windows 7 and is less resource-intensive than many of its competitors. I barely notice it’s there.
Then there are the other steps Microsoft is taking to improve its overall security model. They’re doing good work, Ubuntu – and they deserve credit for it. Yes, you and other Linux distros may still have the edge in total system security, but to a casual user Windows 7 does a bang-up job in this regard.
But wait, you say – there’s still the issue of stability. Haven’t you always excelled when it comes to stability, especially when compared to Windows?
As I’ve mentioned, I’m not sure you provide a better alternative at this point. In my experience, Windows 7 is remarkably solid. You, my friend, have not been. I sincerely hope 10.04 is more stable than 9.10 – and I imagine it will be – but you know what? The bar’s been raised. We can continue to mock Vista for the unstable mess that it was, but when it comes to Windows 7, the average user isn’t complaining about stability. Even corporations are convinced that it’s time to upgrade from XP. This is a good thing, Ubuntu.
True, it would be better if these corporations were upgrading to you, but frankly – I’m not sure you’re ready for widespread commercial use. Those 9.10 stability problems still linger in my mind…
Then there are the other things Windows 7 has improved. Windows Media Player is no longer an abomination. It’s actually kind of nice. Rhythmbox, on the other hand, has a long way to go before it can truly compete with the all-in-one solutions offered by software like WMP or iTunes. IE9 looks like it could actually be a competitive browser. I still love my Firefox, but I grow increasingly frustrated with how poorly the Linux version of Firefox compares to the Windows version. Then there’s the frustration of being forced to wait for a distro upgrade in order to use the latest version of Firefox. Yes, I know I can manually configure obscure repositories – and I always do this – but it’s hard to convince my friends and family that it’s worth the extra effort. “But in Windows, Firefox just does the update for me!”
They’re not wrong.
I’m sorry this letter has turned into a rant, Ubuntu. I didn’t intend for it to turn out like this.
But frankly, I’m concerned.
There’s one more thing I need to bring up, Ubuntu. Something I’ve discussed in the past.
It’s called “diplomacy.” And frankly, you suck at it.
Six months ago I wrote about three key relationships you needed to mend if you want to be successful. I still think those relationships are in dire need of improvement, but I realize now that I left the most important group off that list.
Many individuals have discussed – at length – the meltdown between various members of the Ubuntu community due to your “interesting” placement of 10.04’s window buttons. So many discussions have taken place on this that there’s no way in hell I’m going to open that can of worms again.
But what I will say is this: you need to seriously reevaluate the message you send to the free workforce that makes Ubuntu possible.
Let me quote Fewt on the matter:
As you know the change of the title bar buttons from right to left coming in Lucid 10.04 has caused quite a stir across the internets, and has taken focus in a single bug report. Ultimately it really is trivial to change them back to the right side; a simple gconf oneliner will move them, but there is a greater issue here.
That issue is .. community. Thousands of users across the internet are voting overwhelmingly against this change, but unfortunately it seems that it like all other Ubuntu bugs have fallen on deaf ears. Users reporting that they do not want the change are being told that they aren’t going to get a choice or a vote in the decision, and if they don’t like it they can fix it themselves, or they can find another distribution.
What’s worse though is that Ubuntu’s #1 is personally posting in bug threads with an utterly atrocious level of condescending attitude; degrading the very users that this product is supposed to capture. Users that care about Linux. Questions have been asked over and over, and evidence has been provided that it is such a bad idea and rather than listening to the people that have supported Ubuntu over the years, we receive statements like “we are not voting on design decisions” and “you don’t get to second-guess their decisions”.
Ubuntu is supposed to be a meritocracy where an elite group of people make decisions based on technical ability. Where is this technical ability that they speak of though? How this process seems to really work is that Mark says “make it so” and his drones say “yes master”. That’s not a meritocracy, not at all.
The end result (like many of their other internally created components ie – Computer Janitor) is a half baked implementation of a theme that looks worse than the theme it is replacing.
I choose to vote with my feet, and maybe I’ll even host a burn your Ubuntu merchandise day since I have quite a bit of it myself. None of it will ever see the light of day again anyway. My talent and knowledge is far more valuable elsewhere contributing to projects that actually improve the open source community.
The comments on that thread are also interesting. Again, I’m not going to debate who is/isn’t right in this case (though it’s hard to argue with Fewt’s POV), but let me say that the damage this issue has done to Ubuntu’s reputation among developers is extensive. QUITE extensive.
Because if there’s anything a developer hates, it’s having their input ignored without offering a legitimate counterargument. If a FOSS developer wanted to be treated like that, they’d go work for one of your far-more-successful competitors and make a lot more money for their efforts.
Ubuntu may not be a democracy. That’s fine. But when free labor is involved, the free laborers must be given some element of control – otherwise, they are absolutely justified in investing their time and energy elsewhere.
I still have hope for you, Ubuntu. I like the against-all-odds spirit you espouse. I believe consumers everywhere could benefit from a strong third-party OS offering, and I still think you are capable of merging your corporate and FOSS interests into a cohesive whole.
But I have concerns, Ubuntu. I have concerns with your design, your stability, your community, your leadership, and your roadmap for the future. 10.04 looks to have some interesting changes – but are they enough to make you a viable alternative to Windows 7?
Ask me in a month, I guess.
(Author’s Note: Let me clearly state that I love FOSS and I love Linux. However, I’m starting to have serious doubts about whether or not Ubuntu is a good representative for Linux and FOSS as a whole. To anyone who visits – I’m currently looking for a great KDE distro NOT based off Ubuntu. Any suggestions based on personal experience?)